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My personal BODY POSITIVITY story

I'm so happy about the current body positivity movement. All over Instagram I see photos of brave and beautiful women showing their scars, post pregnancy bodies, curves, stretch marks, bones, fat, acne, you name it. It's everything that isn't dominantly showed in the beauty and fashion industry. The billion dollar industry that feeds of our insecurity. It means this much to me, because I've been there. I'm 29 now and in the past years I've grown to love my body, just the way it is. I felt like writing my story down. Maybe it will help others in their journey to feeling good about their body.


I must have been 4 years old, when I had my very first encounter with fat shaming.  I remember it so well, I was playing outside on the camping we visited every weekend and I felt so lucky because of one thought. That thought was: "I'm lucky I'm not fat". I don't remember where I picked up being fat was supposedly a bad thing. Maybe I had seen someone get bullied? Hm. The next day came along and.. I got bullied. They said I was fat. Wow, I wasn't a lucky 4 year old after all. 

Writing this down brings up some sadness. I was a chubby kid. So what? I had friends and a loving family. I was smart, creative, kind and helpful. Why did it matter what I looked like? I went to elementary school and through the years I was called many things, usually swearing words like piggy, fatty, etc.. There was one kid in my class, I still get chills thinking about him, that called me 'zeug' all the time. It translates to female pig in Dutch. Fast forward from 11 to 20 years old, this same guy was drunk and coked up standing in front of my house in the middle of the night. I came home from a party and was cranky because his friends were hanging against my fence. When I told him and his friends to go elsewhere, guess what he called me.. Yes: 'zeug'. The bottled up anger I felt as an eleven year old came straight back. They left and I went inside, feeling so angry. I think I wrote him a private message on Facebook, but he never replied. I don't know if he knows what his behaviour has caused. 


I had my first boyfriend when I was 15. He was so cute, so beautiful, so goth. Haha. He had Dutch and Portugese roots and curly hair and most of all, he liked me. In all honesty, until my 15th I believed no boy would find me attractive. I hated wearing tight clothing. Alternative style clothing provided what I wanted, which was to show off my personality and not put focus on the body parts I felt insecure about. I didn't wear sleeveless shirts or shorts, I felt too insecure! In hot summers my skin never got a tan. During my second relationship I was mostly still a kid and I never really felt confident to undress in the same room or show my naked body in bright light. I still didn't feel beautiful. I compared myself to thin ex girlfriends and as a result I developed a secret attitude. When going out to parties I held my head up high, pretended to not see people I knew, even though I was always scanning the room (something to do with my HSP, read more here), and I held in my belly and double chin. I couldn't relax until it was almost time to leave the party. I didn't mean to be arrogant, I just felt really hyper alert and insecure.

That relationship ended. I had my first grown up single experience and I loved it. At first I just went to see how many guys would feel attracted to me. I still didn't think I was thin or pretty enough, but I learned a lot in this year and from my past relationship. I learned how to stand up for myself. I learned to say no. I learned what I did like. I learned how friendly and open minded some people can be and how ignorant others. I grew, spiritually and mentally. I focused on me. I went through a fase where I was trying to be in control and counted all my calories for a while and I lost weight. I wasn't where I am today, but it was an interesting time. 


Then, when I wasn't looking for a long term boyfriend, I met my current boyfriend. He was different from all the guys I met before. He was genuinely kind and I felt so attracted to him. We met at a house party and I fell asleep on his shoulder. The next day he came to my work to ask me out that same night and 3 weeks later I picked up my guinea pig pet from my parents' place, because I moved in with him. We connected on a level, so different from what I ever expected to happen. He looked at me like I was a Goddess. He told me how beautiful I am, multiple times, every day. And he still does today, 6 years later. At first I was annoyed by these comments. "What? Me, beautiful, have you looked at me? I don't believe you! Stop making me feel uncomfortable!" He meant it, I could see it in his eyes. I never felt like I wanted to hide my naked body when he was near. I learned to flaunt it. Here I am, baby! And then I'd shake around and he'd shake his body and we'd laugh out loud together. We laugh a lot. 

It makes me think. Is having a boyfriend that shows this kind of appreciation for your body and mind necessary for a girls confidence? I feel the urge to say it's not necessary! But I do think it helped me in the beginning. It takes work to change your thoughts, and work takes time. When we were dating for a few months I told my boyfriend I wanted to leave the Netherlands and go traveling. Australia or Asia or New Zealand, I wasn't sure yet, but I wanted to go for at least a year. Half a year later he joined me on one of the most amazing journeys I've been through. We traveled through Down Under and it was warm down there. I was 23 and finally started wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts again. Makeup ran down my face so I decided to dye my blonde eyebrows and lashes a little darker and didn't wear makeup for months. Me, the insecure girl that wore eyeliner every (!) single  (!) day (!) since she was 15. I loved it. I didn't even look in mirrors. But we ate a lot of shit. Traveling isn't all glory and fun. The reason you learn so much from traveling is because you encounter a lot of problems you have to solve. Traveling can be stressful! So in stressful times we started buying lots of chocolate and other comfort food. We both gained weight. When we started working in a hotel, the labour was tough, so we lost a bit again and then both stayed a tiny bit overweight. It didn't matter, we were happy. We were living on a tropical island and were about to travel New Zealand for 3 months without having to work. 


We came back and moved in with my parents until we could find a house to buy. My parents are amazing and made sure we were well fed. So we gained weight, because we both love to eat and don't know when to stop when we're full. We traveled through the USA for a month and I decided to go vegetarian as soon as we'd return. Quickly I went completely vegan, because I do it for the animals. I had no idea most calories I ate came from all the meat and dairy I added to my meals every day and without really focusing on losing weight, I lost 13 kilos in one year. Holy shit, I had a healthy BMI again. I loved seeing myself in photos other people took. Friends told me to not lose more weight, because I'd become too thin. Whaaaat?

You know, I was happy with my body before I lost this weight. I wasn't always putting good food in, but I loved my curves and wore short dresses ever since I came back from Australia. So it's not that losing that weight is the reason why I finally started loving my body. That process started a while ago. There are so many reasons that all resonate with me. I assume you know I work as a photographer. When I interned in New York at this amazing fashion photographer, I still had to photoshop the most beautiful, perfect models. I made their long legs a little longer, thin waists a little thinner,removed their non-existent double chin. I had to make aliens out of real people. I figured at age 22 that I, nor agency signed models, would be able to look the way they look in fashion editorials and beauty advertising without manipulation. So I gave up trying. And with age that realization sank in more and more.

I also focused on the soft pleasures my body gave me. My legs became slimmer after going vegan and now my knee bones collide when I sleep on my side. Ugh, not comfy. I've always had belly fat and even though I don't particularly love showing my belly in public, I wouldn't want to have a flat stomach like I used to long for. I just love the soft feeling, it's been a part of me through all of my life. I've accepted my belly. My legs are strong. I cycled to high school and back and that was 20 kilometers a day. Yeah, my upper legs are bigger than my lower legs, but it's NORMAL, haha. It took me so long to figure that out, I thought they needed to stay straight from the knee up. O, gosh. 


So now I'm 29 and I feel confident about my body. Nothing is wrong with it. It's strong, beautiful, functional, unique, interesting and it changes. Do I feel this way every single day? No, but I'd say 90% of the time. A few weeks ago I went to a meetup to talk about body and food with a bunch of girls. Everyone shared their personal story about their body and relationship to food. There weren't many girls who felt as content as I am now, so at first I felt a bit out of place. Was I supposed to be here? But then I decided to be open and honest and hopefully inspire at least. The body positivity movement is here to make us realize that it's necessary to accept ourselves and our bodies completely. We can keep chasing goals, but all we have is now. You can work hard to weigh 55 kilos and then when you get there, you might find out you'd rather weigh 50 and so you will be wasting time not being happy and content. I know, it's a huge process of breaking down old habits and fighting a cultural society that has implemented unhealthy ways of thinking. I could write more and more about spiritual ways to unapologetic self-love and surrendering to the universe, but that's probably a bit too much for this article. 

Don't know where to start your own body positivity journey, but want to feel happier about your body and mind? Try these tips:

  • Indulge in images that show body positivity. Start following accounts that spark joy. This will help to reorganize your thoughts and helps to see these images as normal.
  • Get rid of the accounts that make you feel insecure about yourself. It's an easy way to daily avoid seeing a big part of the images that don't help you in this process.
  • Talk to your friends openly about how you feel and you will learn that everyone basically has the same insecurities. For realz! This might come as a shock, but a lot of 'perfect looking' people aren't necessarily happy with their body as it is right now. There's always a newer, better goal to chase. Not everyone realizes that being happy and content starts now, because there will always be something better to chase.
  • Getting confident about yourself takes conscious practice. Why not remind yourself every morning? Write a positive affirmation on your mirror or scale. How about: 'I am good just the way I am',  'You go, girl!', 'I'm proud of you'. That way you will read that happy message every day. 


Some of the body positivity themed Instagram accounts that you can follow are:
@honeylovesorg - @bodiposipanda - @thebirdspapaya - @mayralouise - @selfcareisforeveryone - @scarrednotscared - @i_weigh - @curatedbygirls 

 


So this is where I am today. It's been 25 years from the first thought. What a ride. Where are you today? Do you feel confident you'll get where you want to be in the near future? I also shared this to start a conversation. If in any way I can help, reach out to me, we can talk. :) Also if you have some more tips to start your personal body positivity journey or know some BodyPosi Instagram accounts to follow, please share them below in the comment section. Thank you so much for reading and replying, together we can help feel other women (and men too, of course) feel more confident in their own skin. Because there's only one you and out of all the molecules, cells and luck in the world, you were put together and that's enough reason to love yourself and if that's hard, find help. I believe in you. 

And that boy who called me 'zeug'? I hope he's happy and wish him nothing but love. 

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Landa Penders
Landa Penders is a fashion and portrait photographer from the Netherlands, focusing on statement brands, promoting self-love and sharing her expertise in photography.

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